X: ORNITHURAE AVES: BIRDS OF X

GOLDCREST

Scientific Name: Regulus regulus

Facts
The Goldcrest habitat stretches from Western Europe to Eastern Asia and is the smallest bird in the UK at only 5.8 g (Habib). They have a patch of bright yellow on their crests (top of their heads), and most of their plumage is green and brown with black and white stripes on their tail feathers. The goldcrest is highly energetic, and their erratic flight pattern is thought to have the advantage of confusing predators. During winter, this passerine (perching bird) survives extremely low temperatures by huddling together at night to conserve warmth (Reinersten) and forming a flock that includes species of other birds. McDowall may have chosen this bird because it has garnered significant attention to Britons, but also because it can survive in extremely cold environments by relying on the help of its kin– similar to how our crew on Pluto only survive by coming together.

Symbolism
Regulus is the diminutive of the Latin “Rex” which means “king” (Habib). Plutarch claims that Aesop had a fable about how a wren usurped an eagle to claim the title of king of the birds. During a contest to see who could fly highest, the wren hid within the eagle’s feathers, and once the eagle tired, the wren shot forth and flew higher (Plutarch). According to professor of antiquities W. Geoffrey Arnott, small birds such as goldcrest were conflated with wrens, thus, goldcrests have become known as “the king of birds.”

NIGHTINGALE

Scientific Name Luscinia megarhynchos

Facts
Nightingale’s very name comes from their defining trait: the beauty of their nocturnal song (“Nightingale”), which is often referred to as “melodious” (Aesop). In fact, Nightingales usually hide in the brush and are difficult to find, aside from their distinctive song. They are common in Central Europe (including the UK) where they spend their summers, and in Central Africa where they migrate in the winter (Song). Their numbers have declined due to man-made influences including climate change, habitat reduction, and reintroduction of certain species in areas where they nest. Male nightingales are known to fiercely defend their nesting territory, furthermore, as the males age, they can learn up to 250 different songs to help attract mates, which lends them greater success. After mating, the male will stop singing at night until his mate lays his eggs.

Symbolism
In Aesop’s fable, “The Nightingale and His Cage,” a nightingale is well taken care of but lives his life within a cage. He longs for life in the wild and escapes at the first chance, only to find that the world beyond was harsh and full of perils. As he died he thought, “[W]ere I but in my cage again, I would ne’er wander more.” Perhaps McDowall chose this bird to reflect the foolish choice humans have made to abandon the safety of Earth, where all our needs can be taken care of, and instead venture into the treacherous reaches of outer space.

WILLOW WARBLER

Scientific Name Phylloscopus trochilus

Facts
Willow Warblers range from yellow to olive green with brown feathers and brown legs. Willow Warblers eat small insects, fruit, and berries; and reside near water in woodland areas. The population has fallen 44% in the UK since 1970 (“Willow Warbler”). They are thought of as “restless” birds because they are often on the move (Couzens). At only 9 grams, this is the smallest bird that can travel distances of up to 13,000 km or 8,000 mi (Cassella) which the Siberian Willow Warbler does during its migration from Russia to parts of eastern Africa. Swedish researchers believe that warblers have an inherent navigation mechanism that lets them use the Earth’s magnetic field as well as solar information to orient themselves, aiding in accurate migration.

Symbolism
To the English, Willow Warblers are the herald of spring time; and their song is thought to be “mournful” and gentle, “a soft lilting down the scale” (Couzens). Alistair McDowall possibly chose this bird as its symbolism reflects X’s themes of environmentalism and humanity’s complex feelings of grief over climate change and the longing for a time of renewal and healing.

Source(s):
Aesop, Griset, Ernest, and Rundell, Joseph Benjamin . “Aesop’s Fables.” translations by Samuel Croxall, Jean de La Fontaine, and Sir Roger L’Estrange, published by Cassell, Petter, and Galpin, 1874, https://archive.org/stream/aesopsfables1874aeso/aesopsfables1874aeso_djvu.txt
Cassella, Carly. “These Teeny-Tiny Birds Fly an Incredible 13,000 Kilometers One Way to Migrate.” Science Alert, 22 November 2018, https://www.sciencealert.com/these-tiny-birds-fly-an-incredible-13-000-kilometres-one-way-to-migrate
Couzens, Dominic. “Warblers guide: UK species and how to identify.” The Country File, BBC, Our Media Ltd, 23 February 2023, https://www.countryfile.com/wildlife/birds/warblers
Cox, Tony. “Goldcrest.” Flickr, SmugMug+Flickr,  14 February 2013, https://www.flickr.com/photos/58149020@N06/10014983134/in/photostream/
Cox, Tony. “Nightingale.” Flickr, SmugMug+Flickr, 4 April 2022, https://www.flickr.com/photos/58149020@N06/52366129784/in/photostream/
Cox, Tony. “Willow Warbler.” Flickr, SmugMug+Flickr, 7 April 2011, https://www.flickr.com/photos/58149020@N06/5598504049
Habib, Raeesah. “The Goldcrest – King of the Birds.” AviBirds, 11 February 2021, https://avibirds.com/goldcrest/
Plutarch. “Moralia: Praecepta Gerendae Reipublicae.” translation by H. H. Fowler, Loeb Classical Library edition, University of Chicago, 1936,  https://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Plutarch/Moralia/Praecepta_gerendae_reipublicae*.html
Reinersten, Randi Eidsmo, et al. “Is hypothermia necessary for the winter survival of the Goldcrest Regulus regulus?” Journal für Ornithologie, 1 October 1988, 129, 433-437, https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01644486
“Willow Warbler.” Woodland Trust, Woodland Trust Enterprises Ltd, https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/animals/birds/willow-warbler/